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From Understanding the Meaning of Human Rights to Knowing the Challenges: My Experience with Africa Faith and Justice Network by Ashagrie Abdi

Presumably, with the best theoretical knowledge that I have acquired during my studies, I went to the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) to do an internship. I came across the website of the organization while I was working on the “Atrocity Crime Litigation Review -2011” with Ambassador David Scheffer. The website gave me different opinions and sources about the progress of the cases before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Afterwards, I kept reading about the mission and works of the organization and finally decided to do an internship there.

AFJN is advocating for employing the notion of restorative justice to solve conflicts in Africa, in particular, the problems the Congolese people are facing. With other advocacy groups working on African issues, AFJN vehemently challenges the presence of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). In addition, AFJN has been working on different issues that the contemporary Africa is facing. For example, it is working on creating awareness about the land grabbing in Africa.

Restorative justice was not a topic that I covered during my studies about human rights and justice. According to the notion, crimes are considered to be committed against an individual or community and the focus of solving issues related to those crimes should be based on the need of the victims, the offenders and the community involved rather than the abstract state. It has been argued that: if attempts to bring a perpetrator can bring more violence and killings, those attempts should be rejected. Instead, according to some co-workers at FJN and other Networks, the principle of restorative justice should be employed. This idea has been raised on different workshops I have participated in. I tried to challenge the idea of giving amnesty for rebel commanders or head of states, just for the sake of temporary relive, on the ground that it is only through accountability that lasting peace can be built. Surprisingly, those who experienced the problem believe that, if the application of restorative justice would bring peace, why not. Even though, I may feel that there is a room for the application of the notion, for example, using restorative justice for ordinary militia members, for those who commanded the commission of atrocious crimes, I strongly believe that the only mechanism is a rigorous judicial approach.

AFJN rejects AFRICOM. It believes that militarizing the African continent does not solve the African problem; rather, it perpetuates the dictatorial regimes that have been an obstacle to human development in Africa; and it is not a priority for African and should not be. This video is all about the issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRCZk8mM1EU&feature=player_embedded#!

Nowadays, Africa has become a battleground for those who want to have land in Africa. The pace at which the grabbing is taking place is leaving the defenseless people at risk. After the people are dispossessed of their means of livelihood, the issue will become how to help these people to survive, not about civil and political rights. The executive director of AFJN, Aniedi Okure, just wrote an article describing how and at what pace the grabbing is taking place. According to him, it is a new scramble for Africa.[1] This video about land grabbing in Ethiopia will shed light on how it is going on the Continent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qoNyhwtbodM#!

In a nutshell, I am enjoying my internship with AFJN. I have been participating on different workshops and trainings. I also participated in writing a piece in the newsletter of the organization where I wrote about the crisis in Somalia and the response of the international community.[2] My next assignment is on summarizing the lessons that we can learn from the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) cases and rulings. As my future plan is to work on the issue of conflict resolution and human rights, it is one of the ideal places to work. Another tip that, I have got here is that a good human rights lawyer and advocate should be a good policy analyst too. As a human rights lawyer/ advocate, my first reaction to any act was: Which substantive right is violated? This short time stay with AFJN and other advocacy groups made me think: what is the implication of this decision?

About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.

[1] Aniedi Okure , A New Scramble for Africa: Land Grab & Dispossession of People https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1552/images/ArAfr%202012%20April-june.pdf

[2] Ashagrie Abdi, Comprehensive and Inclusive Step Required to end the Crisis in Somalia, https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1552/images/ArAfr%202012%20April-june.pdf